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Virginia Henderson

Virginia Henderson is often compared to Florence Nightingale for her contributions to nursing. She has been called the foremost nurse of the 20th century because of her national and international accomplishments that changed and elevated the practice of nursing. Her achievements are even more astonishing when the time period in which she lived is taken into consideration.

Early Life and Education

Virginia Avenel Henderson was born in 1897 in Kansas City, Missouri, the fifth of eight children. Her father, Daniel Henderson, was an attorney for Native American Indians. The extended family included many scholars and teachers. In 1901, her family moved back to her mother's home state of Virginia where Henderson received her early education at her uncle's community school. Although it was a school for boys, she, her sisters and an aunt also attended. In 1918, Virginia entered the Army School of Nursing in Washington, D.C., and received a diploma in nursing in 1921.

Henderson's Nursing Career

Following graduation, Henderson worked at the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service in Washington, D.C., for two years before becoming the first full-time nursing instructor in Virginia at the Norfolk Protestant Hospital. While there, she was in favor of including psychiatric nursing into the curriculum and helped develop a course at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. She also was active in the Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia and created a plan to form district organizations within the state.

In 1929, she enrolled in Teachers College at Columbia University, receiving her bachelor's degree in 1932 and a master's degree in 1934. During this time, she was a member of the faculty at Teachers College and remained there for 14 years. Her reputation as a teacher grew and she attracted students from many different places. She reached even more students when she updated the 1939 edition of the Textbook of the Principles and Practice of Nursing by Bertha Harmer. Many schools of nursing used this as part of their curriculum. She later wrote an updated fifth edition of the same book.

Joining the Yale University School of Nursing in 1953, Henderson became a research associate for a project to study the status of nursing research in the United States. Following that, she directed the Nursing Studies Index Project from 1959 to 1971. The first index of nursing research, the four-volume Nursing Studies Index, was the result of this study.

Henderson authored several other publications during this time at Yale University. One important study that was in collaboration with Leo Simonds was Research: A Survey and Assessment.

Never one to slow down, Henderson became research associate emeritus at Yale University and, at the age of 75, began a new career phase of speaking engagements and international teaching. This allowed a whole new generation of nurses to benefit from her extraordinary knowledge and experience.

Miss Virginia Avenel Henderson died on March 19, 1996 at the Connecticut Hospice. She was 98 years of age. She always preferred to be called Miss rather than Ms. It is reported that after eating ice cream and chocolate cake, she said goodbye to her family and friends and left this world very quietly. She is buried in her family's plot in the churchyard of St. Stephen's Church in Forest, Virginia.

Throughout her lifetime and beyond, Henderson received many awards and honorary degrees for her contributions to nursing. She was awarded honorary degrees from 13 universities and was an honorary fellow of the United Kingdom's Royal College of Nursing. In 1979, the Connecticut Nurses Association awarded her the first Virginia Henderson Award for outstanding contributions to nursing research. At the age of 87, she received the first Christianne Reimann Prize from the International Council of Nurses. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame. In 2000, Henderson was named as one of 51 Pioneer Nurses in her home state of Virginia.

Virginia Henderson's Nursing Legacy

For more than 70 years, Henderson was an active force in the nursing profession. She not only was a nurse, but an educator, researcher, public speaker and author. However, perhaps her most important contribution to nursing was as a nursing theorist. Her Nursing Need Theory defines the role of nursing practice. The theory, developed after many years of study, research and practical experience, presents a humane and holistic care plan for patients and defines nursing with dignity and honor.

Because of Virginia Henderson's impact on nursing practice and nursing theory, she has been called the "First Lady of Nursing" and the "First Truly International Nurse." She also has been called "The 20th Century Florence Nightingale."

Publications related to Virginia Henderson

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